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June 27, 2024 4 min read

Hey there, everyone. Brendan here once again, looking at something that might on its face feel basic, but has a lot more detail to it: nutrition labels. As a person becomes more aware of what it is they're eating, it's inevitable that they'll turn to these black and white labels on the packaging. We'll go over a few of the most important aspects of these labels and some of the more obscure knowledge that can help you stay healthy and avoid risky ingredients.

Reading Between The Lines

It can be overwhelming to look at nutrition labels sometimes, particularly on something that's more processed and filled with long chemical-sounding names. Taking it piece by piece is a good way to tackle it, and never be afraid to look something up if you aren't sure! 

There are certain elements that are worth checking on every packaged food you're considering picking up. The most basic is the quantity of calories, of course. Though we've all heard 2,000 as being the daily recommended intake, there are a lot of potential factors that can affect this. Activity level, for example, is a critical factor; those who engage in regular, intense physical activity will need more calories. Age, gender, weight and height can also influence your recommended caloric intake, and is something worth discussing with your doctor. Remember that no generic online resource is a substitute for genuine medical advice!

In addition to calories, it is essential to check the amounts of fiber, key vitamins and minerals and added sugars. The others are a bit more self-explanatory, but the added sugars are truly tricky. This is sugar put in by the manufacturer during production rather than being a 'natural' part of assembly. This can sometimes add double the amount of sugar or more to a food, and should always be looked out for. 

Additionally, attention should be paid to the ingredients list, as it can reveal the presence of artificial additives, allergens, and other substances that may affect health. I wanted to go over a few of the most important of these, in part because I've been tripped up by a few of them!

Sugar and Spice

The thing we use these labels for nowadays, perhaps more than anything, is to see if a food contains things to avoid. Common but dangerous ingredients like MSG (monosodium glutamate), sodium nitrite, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup and others are red flags, of course, but the mega-corporations' marketing divisions have noticed how we've caught on.

Companies are also advertising foods with labels like "sugar free" to entice more health-conscious buyers, but the sugar has often been substituted with something even more nefarious-- a truth that also rings true with "fat free," sadly. Avoiding artificial sweeteners and chemical sugar substitutes can be one of the biggest hurdles in maintaining a healthy diet these days, the importance of which is raised by the potential cancer risks in some of them, particularly aspartame. This is one of the reasons diet soda is considered just as bad, if not worse, than the regular stuff by many people!

Feeling Salty

Something else to watch out for on nutrition labels is the presence of large levels of sodium. Salt certainly has its place in a healthy diet, but intake should be limited, as too much of it can cause issues ranging from water retention to heart and kidney issues. Over time, high sodium levels can strain the kidneys, potentially leading to kidney disease. Additionally, a diet high in sodium is often low in other essential nutrients, contributing to poor overall dietary quality and increased risk of chronic diseases.

One of the biggest sources of sodium are frozen foods. The convenience of a so-called "TV dinner" is more than offset by the fact that many of them contain 70% or more of your recommended daily sodium intake. Canned soup, condiments and a variety of snack foods like chips and jerky are also high in sodium (though Nakee Butter isn't; get some today!).


Observing proper serving sizes on nutrition labels is crucial for accurate dietary management and health. Serving sizes provide a standardized reference that helps individuals understand how much of each nutrient they are consuming. This is particularly important for monitoring calorie intake and managing macronutrients such as fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.

Proper portion control is also essential for maintaining a balanced diet and preventing overconsumption, which can lead to weight gain and associated health problems. Additionally, understanding serving sizes can help individuals make more informed food choices, plan balanced meals, and adhere to dietary guidelines. (Also note that a serving size is "not a suggestion of how much to eat") By paying attention to serving sizes, one can better regulate their intake of essential nutrients, avoid excessive calories, and support overall health and well-being.

That's ultimately the goal of all this, after all. We are fortunate that companies are mandated to provide and maintain these nutrition labels and ingredient lists on their products, as mandated by law. It is an indispensable resource for maintaining good dietary habits and supporting one's physical and mental health through awareness and, when necessary, avoidance. 

Thanks for reading, everyone! This is Brendan, signing off for now.

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